News / Calgary

Benefits accrued by vice-president at cash-strapped Mount Royal University deemed 'crazy'

Editor's note: A statement originally attributed to both Mount Royal President David Docherty and the university's board chair should have solely been credited to Docherty. 

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Officials at cash-strapped Mount Royal University are saying little about the circumstances that saw one of their executives accrue more than a quarter-million dollars in perks despite only working at the Calgary institution for a little more than two years.

The $267,000 in cash benefits netted by former vice-president of university advancement Hope Henderson came on top of her base pay of $159,000 and another $5,000 in non-cash benefits, according to financial documents for the year ending June 30, 2014, that were recently published.

Her $431,000 in total earnings put her ahead of university President David Docherty ($401,000) and were awarded despite her only working 9.5 months of the 2014 fiscal year.

The circumstances around Henderson's departure from the school were not addressed by Mount Royal officials over three days of questioning via email by Metro. There was also little detail about how she could be awarded such lofty benefits when three other vice-presidents and Docherty accrued just $124,000 combined.

A statement from Docherty that was provided to Metro Friday afternoon after questions were first raised Wednesday morning reads, "details of employment contracts for executives and employees of Mount Royal constitute personal information and as such are considered strictly confidential.

"The board of governors provides oversight to the university and is aware of all executive contracts and that we honoured the terms of this contract for this vice president."

According to Mount Royal's financial documents, cash benefits can "include housing allowances, car allowances, professional development, severance and cash travel allowances."

But there was little doubt in the mind of Scott Hennig, acting Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, that Henderson's earnings came as a direct result of a severance clause in her contract. He said the payout was another example of a "disturbing trend" of exorbitant offerings for public-sector executives and said Henderson should have only been entitled to such a payout if she'd worked for the university for "decades."

"It seems to me that they signed a (one-year's pay) severance and that's crazy," he said. "You shouldn't be doing that as a public body . . . companies can't afford to do that, non-profits certainly can't afford to do that. People in the real world using non-taxpayer cash usually don't pay out that kind of luxury and rightfully so."

Henderson's earnings came on the heels of a major cut to post-secondary funding in the 2013 budget that prompted Mount Royal to eliminate eight programs, cut more than 60 staff positions and chart a plan to reduce student enrolment despite a surging number of applicants.

Recently obtained memos indicate the school is laying the groundwork for more cuts this spring as they grapple with an up to $10 million budgeting gap over the next two years — and that's only if anticipated provincial funding holds in the face of a major decline in the price of oil.

Erik Queenan, president of the Students' Association of Mount Royal University, noted that he didn't sit on the school's board of governors when Henderson's contract was signed and he hadn't received information on the circumstances surrounding her departure. He did say the university needs to take a hard look at executive pay, especially in times of financial hardship.

"Salaries are the No.1 expense for the university . . . absolutely, every salary and contract needs to be carefully looked at going forward," he said.

A profile article posted on Mount Royal's website indicates Henderson started with the university Aug. 20, 2012, and deems her a "perfect fit" for a school with aspirations to grow. She'd previously worked for Talisman Energy, TransCanada Corporation and ConocoPhillips.

Attempts by Metro to reach Henderson were unsuccessful but she said at the time that she was really impressed with those she'd met at Mount Royal during her first month on the job.

“I am overwhelmed by the quality of the education and breadth of programming offered at Mount Royal," Henderson was quoted as saying. "We can stand up to any other university undergraduate degree program out there — and probably even show them up a bit."

The financial documents indicate Henderson's tenure with the school ended in early 2014.

See page 61 of Mount Royal's annual report for 2014 executive salary and benefit information

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